The Claw, Darwin Kastle’s top 8 deck from Pro Tour: Venice, is dead. No matter how much Mark Dean might say otherwise in his article,”Learning the Race: The Claw in Onslaught Block Today,” the numbers in his article paint the picture: A deck that wins only 33% of the time against Goblins (40% after sideboard) is barely holding on to the Tier 2 platform.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to give your Kilnmouth Dragons away to the local kids; although the modified Explosive Vegetation incarnation of the Claw is now obsolete, Dragons can live on as a version of a R/W Control deck. Basically, the Neo-Claw takes the powerful control elements of MWC, and adds board-controlling burn and important tools for control mirrors from Red to create a nice complement to the powerful flying finishers.
Here is the decklist and a brief explanation of some of the cards in the deck. I won’t bore you with obvious information like”Wing Shards is good. It kills your opponent’s creatures,” and focus on the cards that don’t automatically go into every R/W deck.
4x Silver Knight
4x Eternal Dragon
4x Kilnmouth Dragon
3x Imperial Hellkite
4x Wing Shards
4x Akroma’s Vengeance
3x Grand Coliseum
3x Temple of the False God
3x Gilded Light
3x Wipe Clean
3x Form of the Dragon
2x Akroma, Angel of Wrath
The deck’s powerful finisher, borrowed from the original Claw. Without the mana acceleration chain of the Veggies version, Kilnmouth Dragon will rarely hit play earlier than turn 7, but the deck’s stronger control elements ensure that you will actually see turn 7. Kilnmouth Dragon’s best feature is that it dodges the combat phase – and thus, the block’s best removal spell.
I originally had Rorix Bladewing in this slot because Imperial Hellkite seemed too slow in this deck without the support of Explosive Vegetation and Goblin Clearcutter. Testing showed this theory to be completely false. Rorix’s triple-red mana cost makes it an almost non-factor in the early game, as you will rarely be swinging on turn 6. Against an aggro deck like Goblins, at least the Hellkite has a chance to come down early as a morph and act as a speed bump, and the Hellkite has even more uses in control matchups: The extra point of toughness allows it to survive battles with opposing Eternal Dragons and Twisted Abominations, and the search ability allows you to gain card advantage. Rorix just walks into Wing Shards or trades with an Eternal Dragon.
Since the deck doesn’t run Lightning Rift, it needs other sources of firepower. But as you will see in the matchup analysis, this isn’t just filler burn: Most of the new control decks depend on a powerful recursive creature to seal the deal after board parity has been reached. Carbonize deals with both Twisted Abomination and, with some help, Eternal Dragon.
For starters, the deck doesn’t run any cycling lands because it wants to put every land into play in the long games, and can’t afford to lose tempo by putting lands into play tapped in the early game. Grand Coliseum goes against the second principle, but it is a necessary evil for a two-color deck with this many double-mana spells.
This spell deals with all of the problematic enchantments in the format, be they Lightning Rift, Astral Slide, Form of the Dragon, and surprisingly, Dragon Scales. Yes, Dragon Scales. There is a reason they made it remove the enchantment from the game. However, since I started packing Stabilizers, there has been less need for this spell.
When my post-sideboard games against R/W Control started off badly, I made the fateful switch to the Stabilizer strategy and it worked wonders (more on that below).
This is the most underappreciated card in the format right now, and should be on the verge of being discovered. It is the only way for Red and White-based control decks to deal with Head Games. It can counter Wing Shards, allowing you to go beatdown – which is good when your deck can get out 11/11 Kilnmouth Dragons. It should also be brought in against Bad Form to protect against Misguided Rage.
Form of the Dragon
Currently, this is my”solution” against Zombie Bidding and other assorted creature decks. If they don’t expect it, Form of the Dragon will absolutely wreck them.
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
This is an emergency sideboard against Goblins. Something had to be brought out of the side to deal with Threaten.
All testing was done in real life, as online testing can give strange results because of the fluctuation in deck quality. All testing decklists were taken from Grand Prix: Detroit, or based on the latest article written about the deck. Thanks to Team End Zone members Carrie, Ian, Theo, Taz, Robert, Chris, Brad, Daniel, and Spencer for their time and input.
Goblins (pre-sideboard: 6-4, post-sideboard: 3-5)
The nightmare of block. The first question asked of any new deck is”How does it do against Goblins?” Luckily, the answer here is”It eats them for breakfast”… At least in game one.
Silver Knights are obviously good here, and the deck makes up for the lack of Dawn Elemental with its array of burn spells. The recent changes to Goblins are favorable to the Neo-Claw. Clickslither is easier to burn out than Goblin Goon as long as you keep the Goblin population down, and Goblin Sharpshooter is a nice juicy target to Shock before playing Wing Shards to pick off two attacking Goblins. Goblins’ biggest weapon against MWC, Siege-Gang Commander, is also less of problem here because of the burn.
-4 Kilnmouth Dragon
+2 Wipe Clean
+2 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
The match flip-flops after sideboard because of Threaten. Often times you will be at five life or less when you stabilize the board, and the first Dragon you play comes back to smash you in the face. In anticipation of this, I side out the double-edged sword that is Kilnmouth Dragon and go with the un-Threatenable Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Form of the Dragon can also be a good sideboard card, unless they go big and side in Rorix Bladewing. Wipe Cleans are insurance against Sulfuric Vortex. After sideboard, games were slightly in Goblins’ favor, but it really depends on how Goblins are sideboarding. Threaten may disappear from the Goblin board, as the primary decks it is good against, Beasts and Veggies, have died out.
MWC (pre-sideboard: 8-2, post-sideboard: 6-3)
Like the MWC mirror, the key to this matchup is Eternal Dragon recursion. Carbonize really shines in this situation. In conjunction with Shock, Starstorm, Akroma’s Vengeance, or a block, you can permanently remove their Dragons and gain a slow advantage. Whenever possible, save Carbonizes for Eternal Dragons, which isn’t too hard since most of their other creatures are immune to red burn.
Wing Shards should be used early in the game to take out Dawn Elementals, and later in the game to ice Akroma, Angel of Wrath since they are immune to your burn. Save Starstorm to”counter” Decree of Justice, or to take out multiple Exalted Angels and Eternal Dragons. Akroma’s Vengeance should be saved for instances when they overload the board with creatures immune to red damage.
Overall, the matchup is very favorable because you have good answers to pretty much all of their threats, and their only answer to an amplified Kilnmouth Dragon is Akroma’s Vengeance (and possibly Oblation out of the side). If you can somehow force an Akroma’s Vengeance on your other creatures, you’ve taken your first step towards victory.
+2 Wipe Clean
+2 Gilded Light
Wing Shards will have to work overtime when they side in even more invincible fat in the form of Jareth, Leonine Titan. Wipe Cleans keep multiple Dragon Scales from becoming abusive, and Gilded Light allows you attack into Wing Shards with a giant Kilnmouth Dragon. Ideally, you want to have Decree of Annihilation in the board, and if Akroma, Angel of Wrath is not needed against Goblins (because they stop running Threaten) then two Decrees should definitely help you lock up game two.
RW Control/ Slideless and Slide (pre-sideboard: 4-6, post-sideboard: 4-5)
I decided to clump Slide and Slideless in the same analysis, even though they play out quite differently. Basically, the more Astral Slides they have, the more difficult game one will be, as they will be able to protect their late game Angels and Eternal Dragons from your removal and creature trades.
Most of your answers to threats are the same as against MWC: Akroma, Angel of Wrath = Wing Shards, Eternal Dragon = Carbonize, Decree of Justice = Starstorm. The difference makers in this matchup are their enchantments; however, simply sideboarding in enchantment destruction proved to be inadequate.
+3 Gilded Light
The first few games I brought in Wipe Cleans and proceeded to get spanked (0-3)… So I decided to run the full hate in the form of Stabilizer. This turned the matchup around completely (4-2). Stopping Lightning Rift damage is almost secondary to the ability to stop Decree of Annihilation from cycling. Without the need to destroy Lightning Rifts immediately, I no longer needed Wipe Clean, so I put in Gilded Lights to counter Wing Shards and go beatdown. Even if they side out Lightning Rifts and cyclers, their best option is to try to Armageddon you with Decree of Annihilation after playing a creature; Stabilizer stops that plan cold as well.
Zombie Bidding (pre-sideboard: 1-9, post-sideboard: 3-6)
Admittedly, these numbers are a little skewed as I ran into a string of truly horrible draws while testing against Zombies. One game I drew all four Kilnmouth Dragons before drawing a second red source of mana. In another game, I took a risk and kept a six-card hand with Mountain, two Temple of the False Gods, and an Eternal Dragon. It didn’t pay off when I failed to draw another land in seven turns. And I had a string of games where I kept drawing the wrong answers (Carbonize when they had Putrid Raptors and Wing Shards when I was getting beat down by Rotlung Reanimators being classic examples). So more realistically, the matchup is probably closer to 2-8, or 3-7 – still unfavorable, but not totally unwinnable.
But enough of my sob stories. Carbonize truly shines in this matchup. It can take out the recurring, regenerating Twisted Abomination, remove the token-generating Rotlung Reanimator from the game, and keep Noxious Ghouls out the graveyard to prevent Patriarch’s Bidding from killing giant Kilnmouth Dragons. Any one Dragon can be a big threat to your opponent, since most Zombie decks do not have any removal for large creatures other than the Bidding/ Ghoul combo. But you also have no way to disrupt their combo, which will absolutely wreck you.
-4 Silver Knight
-1 Eternal Dragon
-1 Imperial Hellkite
+3 Form of the Dragon
+3 Gilded Light
Form of the Dragon is an absolute game-ender in this matchup, as their only answer is to cycle Gempalm Polluter with five Zombies out (or cycle it twice using Unholy Grotto). Try to use Akroma’s Vengeance before dropping Form of the Dragon, and Starstorm after, so you don’t blow your own enchantment. Gilded Light is the only real answer available for Head Games and happens to stop the first Gempalm Polluter they throw at your head after you become a Dragon. If Zombie Bidding builds continue to cut Carrion Feeders, Insurrection might be a quicker solution than Form of the Dragon – but it is best to hope that this stays an underplayed Tier 2 deck.
Bad Form (pre-sideboard: 6-3, post-sideboard: 5-2)
There’s a Bad Form on the rise? I certainly hope so. Bad Form is heavily metagamed to beat Goblins, but has some trouble with control decks with Red. Lightning Rift is less of a threat here than it is in Slide decks because Bad Form has fewer creatures to put the nail in the coffin, depending on Form of the Dragon to finish the job instead. This will play right into your Shocks and Carbonizes. If you do manage to get any Dragon out, they will have to throw a significant amount of burn at it, which is less burn being thrown at you. And Silver Knight can sometimes go the distance.
+3 Wipe Clean
+3 Gilded Light
No matter how much they transform into a creature deck, you still have enough removal left in the deck to handle them. In addition, you gain access to pinpoint enchantment removal, which will ensure that you don’t fall too far behind to a Lightning Rift. The Gilded Lights are meant to counter Misguided Rage (Target player sacrifices a permanent). If you can avoid falling prey to their LD combo, you should post similar numbers in game two. Misguided Rage is so dangerous to you that you should wait to play Silver Knight if you have a Gilded Light in your hand on turn 2.
Like Zombie Bidding, Beasts is a very bad matchup that can only be won with the best of draws. Sideboarding in Form of the Dragon might win you a game on surprise factor, but expect them to side in Naturalize for game three.
Elves just cry against decks with mass removal. Starstorm can be especially deadly because the instant speed can catch them without the mana to play Caller of the Claw. Once any dragon hits, they really have no answer.
Veggie decks are too slow against aggro, and lack the control tools to beat you. By the time they accelerate to their fatty, you should have the removal to handle it.
BW Control decks seem to have fallen to the wayside as well. This is a good thing, since their discard package could potentially wreck the Neo-Claw.
Most other random decks tend to rely on creatures that are strictly inferior to Goblins, Zombies, and Beasts, so you can beat them with your deck full of removal.
The Neo-Claw is a fun deck to play. Nothing beats the look on your opponent’s face when you play an 11/11 (or larger) Kilnmouth Dragon. It has good game one against three of the top decks in block right now (Goblins, MWC, and Bad Form), and the inclusion of Stabilizer in the sideboard makes the RW matchup tolerable. Like the other control decks, the Neo-Claw gets crushed by Zombie Bidding, but as long Zombies lose convincingly to Goblins the deck will never show up in force. The other bad matchup, Beasts, is even less prevalent than Zombies are, which makes this the perfect time to try out this esoteric Dragon deck for your upcoming PTQ.